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Johnson County

African American rural settlements documented: 0

The nineteenth century African American population of Johnson County was small but does show a substantial increase between 1860 and 1870. Informants mention areas that seem to be more like neighborhoods but further investigation is warranted. The areas are the Stockyards (1859-1870s) on the east side of Franklin; an unnamed area of Franklin centered on West Madison Street (1860s to present); an unnamed, undefined area in Edinburgh; and Idlewilde in Hensley Township which never developed as the platted lots were too small.

In 1830 the census shows a total of six free people of color residing in the county.  Milly Magill heads a household of three minor children in Franklin Township where the town of Franklin is located. The other two enumerated individuals live in Nineveh and Blue River Townships. 

In 1840 the population increases to 20 persons, but the 1850 figure declines to 15. Of those 15, 9 are residing in the town of Franklin. The others are distributed in townships as follows: Blue River, 2; Hensley, 1; Pleasant, 2; White River, 1. By the 1860 census the count is 19 African Americans. As in the previous decade the majority, 14 people, live in the town of Franklin. 

The racial attitudes of antebellum Johnson County were not particularly warm. An anecdote about the fair of 1860 relates how in a racist manner Richard “Dick” Blakey was prohibited from a foot race competition. During the Civil War Blakey enlisted in the 28th United States Colored Troops.  He was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Crater, and ultimately starves to death in Libby Prison. County histories also relate that sentiments were in favor of “conciliation” and a “willing[ness] to continue slavery” rather than go to war. The counterpoint to these attitudes is the evidence of the county’s Underground Railroad activity.

Following the Civil War, Johnson County experienced a surge in overall population due to an influx of people from the south. The African American population of 1870, although a small percentage, increased significantly to 115 people. The majority of the population is still located in the town of Franklin. The increase is also reflected in Franklin Township’s population of 10 persons exclusive of the town of Franklin. Edinburgh experienced growth as well with a population of 24 (up from the 3 people counted in 1860). Three of the six townships (Hensley, Nineveh, and White River) counted no African Americans. Blue River (exclusive of Edinburgh), Pleasant and Clark Townships each had a single individual and Union Township had two persons enumerated.

An analysis of the 1880 census indicated that the largest number of adults enumerated were from Kentucky (117 persons of the 172 adult total). Other states of origin included North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. There were also 25 Indiana-born citizens as well as 5 immigrants from Canada. Adam and Clayton Moore are believed to be the first of the arrivals from Kentucky followed by the Fossett family. Most found worked as farm laborers or sharecroppers.

The story of an individual Greenwood resident, probably the single person of color counted in 1870 in Pleasant Township might be illuminating. Mary Ann Cain, an enslaved person from Natchez, Mississippi, ran away about 1864. She encountered Captain Richard Wishard of Pleasant Township during her flight and continued north with him eventually working in his home as a domestic for eight years. The brief, unattributed article about her life begins “…there have been few, if any, of the colored race living in Greenwood. Not that the inhabitants had anything against the colored people, but it seems that for some reason or other they did not settle here.” In discussion with the librarian at the Johnson County Historical Museum, it was mentioned that property deeds in Greenwood had restrictive racial covenants and that even if an African American resident of Franklin were employed in Greenwood, that person came home to Franklin at night. Mary Ann Cain was apparently the exception.

The town of Franklin seems to have been a somewhat more tolerant environment for African Americans than other parts of the county. Two churches were established: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Franklin in 1868 and Second Baptist Church of Franklin (Colored) organized in 1871. Rev. Whitton Lankford led the AME congregation whose family names included Hammond, Leonard, Elkins, Blakely and Stark.  Second Baptist’s first three pastors were William Singleton (1871-1872), Thomas Robinson (1872-1874) and E.E. Tyler (1874-1880). The congregation included the following surnames Clark, Beaty, and Blakemore/Blakeman.

Tolerance had limits.  County histories note that “colored children were admitted to free common school privileges by an act of May 13, 1869. So, “for a time thereafter” children were enrolled at the “old school district.” When the school was sold on July 16, 1870, no permanent provisions were made until 1873. At that time lots were purchased and a school house was built. Laura Overbay taught the first school year of 1875-1876 at what was first known as the West School, later renamed for Booker T. Washington. Its graduates were “allowed” to attend Franklin High School.

Newspaper accounts note that unlike many other Indiana cities, Franklin did not practice a hard line on segregation until the 1940s. During World War II, 6,000 members of a black infantry company were stationed at Camp Atterbury.  In response, the restaurants in Franklin banned all blacks, both local and military, from their businesses and a separate USO for the black troops was organized.

The growth of African American population in Edinburgh is reflected in research done for Rest Haven Cemetery. A history of the cemetery notes “The registration of the fifty-eight free Blacks in Bartholomew County in 1853 started the movement of the Blacks north into Johnson County’s Blue River Township during the 1860s.” Names of Edinburg families from the 1870 census include Farley, Larne, Martin, Lewis, Scott, Henry and Atchison. 

A church was organized by 1881, Edinburg Baptist (Colored). Led by Rev A. R. [or John?] Miller, the congregation included families with the names Gooden, Canady, Hill, Quinn, Beeler, Johnson, Gooden, and Lee. Rev. Miller was briefly succeeded by Rev. Mr. Walker who was followed by Rev. David Slaughter. In 1888, Slaughter pastored a membership of some 100 people. According to early records special trains ran from Indianapolis for church gatherings held at the fairgrounds.  Edinburgh Baptist persisted into the 1960s when outmigration to Columbus and Franklin gained momentum.

Edinburgh did not build a school for African American students until 1891. Twenty-seven students attended classes. The building still stands and houses the Church of Edinburgh Independent Baptists.


Banta, David. History of Johnson County, Indiana. Chicago: Brandt &Fuller, 1888.

Bergen, David, comp. Atlas of Johnson County, Indiana, 1820 to 1900. Franklin, Indiana: Johnson County Historical Society, 1983-1984.

Branigan, Elba L. History of Johnson County, Indiana. Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen & Co, 1913.

Cranor, Dorothy. “Bethel A.M.E. Church organized here in 1867.” Unsourced news clipping before July 25, 1975, Clippings File, Johnson County Museum.

Rest Haven Cemetery: One Hundred Fifty Years. [n.p.: n. p.], 1977, 2003.

Leadership Johnson County, comp. Follow the Drinking Gourd: History of African-Americans in Early Johnson County. [n.p.: n.p., n.d.], Johnson County Museum of History.

Johnson County Interim Report. Indianapolis, Ind.: Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, 1985.

Redmond, P.D. “Black in Franklin.” Franklin [Indiana] Daily Journal, February 25, 1983.

Ross, Hugh J. Whiteland ’33-’44-’94: Hoosier Schoolday Memories of the Depression and War Years. [n.p.: n.p., n.d.].

U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Aggregate Amount of Each Description of Persons within District of Indiana,” 1: 352. Sixth Census of the United States, 1840. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1841.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III—State of Indiana,” 1: 124. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1872.

By Georgia Cravey, July 28, 2014